For twelve years I have been working as part of an expert organ donation team. This is the life saving transplant recovery team, the team that works with the families that save the lives of the people you hear about on the news.
Many times I have had the honor of trying to support parents through the loss of their child. On this day and night and morning the doctors had documented with careful tests over time that there was no blood flow to any part of this little baby’s brain. His body was supported by technology only. His chest rose and fell in breaths provided by a machine. Because the oxygen was sent into his lungs through the machine his heart was getting oxygen and would continue to beat. Another machine kept his body warm because there was no life in the brain to control that. Medications ran through his veins because there was no life in the brain to maintain the blood pressure. Once mom and dad understood that he had died the machines would have been turned off. But first we talked to the parents about organ donation. Momma became hopeful that her son could be an organ donor. This baby had a chance to be a donor because he was brain dead. While we coordinate all the details the technology stays in place.
This dear mother and dad were the parents of two children, a 3 year old and their little one who had died that night. They waited for hours, with their 3 year old at the hospital, while tests were run, and then lists of sick children were printed. Midnight came and went. This baby could maybe save the life of another baby through the gift of his liver. The family took turns holding both of their children, the active 3 year old in the waiting room and their little baby's body as we worked. Baby looked like he was asleep, yet they knew he was gone. They were patient. The family does not have to stay at the hospital all this time but some families choose to stay.
Hours went by. Disappointing news. There were no children in the US that were a good match for this precious gift. This little baby liver was showing too many signs of stress, and doctors were afraid it would not function well after transplant. Every possible doctor was asked. Once we exhausted the US list, we called closer areas of Canada, just in case. The parents desire to rescue another child, and save another family from losing a child, was not going to be possible. Sometimes these expert surgeons determine that the gifts offered are not strong enough to survive transplant.
We try to come up with thankful words that capture the hope they gave to everyone waiting, that just the time and the trying was so very meaningful and important.
Mom and dad said good-bye to their little one. Mom held him as the technology was taken away. As she saw him into the world, she saw him out of the world. I hopelessly patted her shoulder during their last minutes together, witnessed the last kisses and the tears. Finality. Meanwhile Dad’s tears ran onto the head of their sleeping three year old in the waiting room.
We are always amazed at the families we meet. So many of them are willing to give the very biggest thing. Life to a stranger. And the moments we share with these families are so deep and pure and holy.
We left the sounds of the ICU behind. We joined dad in the waiting room. Their 3-year-old son was groggy, half sleeping, as dad propped him into sitting upright. Momma and I squatted down in front of them, and the little guy allowed her to put one of his shoes on and me to put on the other. I tied it with double bows. I snuggled him into his little coat, zipping it up for the snow outside. Momma got a knit hat out of her canvas bag. She placed his hat on his head. She pulled his hood up over it. He did not want to stand, so Daddy stood and picked him up.
Mom stood there and seemed to have lost what to do next. I reached for her bag. I packed some stray toys in it. I put in a folder she had received, and a little booklet about grief. Mom still stood like a statue. I held her coat up, helped her into it. I placed her scarf around her neck. I put the bag in her hand, and then actually wrapped her fingers around the handle. I squeezed her hand. I looked into her sad eyes. I held her a minute. Then I took her arm and we left the waiting room. I got the elevator. I rode down to the lobby with them... saw them safely seated. It was 3 AM. They did not have their own car. Grandma was coming to give them a ride home. If she had not answered her phone they would have called a cab.
Yes, really. This heroic couple. They did not have their own car. And yet they gave the gift of this waiting, until the wee hours of the morning. Grandma gave a gift, too. Grandma was coming to give them a ride home. If she had not woken and answered her phone, their plan was to call a cab.
I hope you can feel them. What wonderful people they were.
I think we can all be kinder.
Micro moments. Thank you to my life, that I am not so distracted and busy that I miss the specialness of the treasures around me.
I treasure you from 15 years ago, small man in his 80’s in the local library. You were wearing the corduroy jacket with the worn suede patches on the elbows. How refreshing that they were probably placed over actual worn spots to make your jacket last longer; rather than by a designer to be on trend. You paused and smiled at me with such warmth and sparkle in your eyes that I saw, heard and felt your smile. I returned it. I wondered who you were. Did I know you? When I looked for you minutes later I could not find you. You were not even in the long line checking out. You appeared with a look of loving encouragement when I needed it. I did not know it then but I had in my hand a book that would change my life. Were you an angel waiting for me to find it? I remember you.
Thank you to the sweet man who held the door for me yesterday. The colleague who helped me make a few work calls at 4AM three months ago. The classmates who listen deeply and share fearlessly so we all grow. The woman at the coffee shop that remembers how I take my coffee. The nurse I had not seen for almost 4 years who came to chat before she left work. We are all very different and we all shared moments together.
I appreciate you, my friends who are happy when something good happens. I love you, people who text “love-hello’s.” And you, Ellen; for being loving and funny on TV; how delightful are you. Thank you to musicians, bands, singers and cellists and harmonica players. Thank you to painters and those that draw and those that quilt and those that knit. Thank you for seasons and scarves and mittens and boots. Thank you for planes that take my friends who resist the seasons to warmer climes.
Thank you for bountiful language and authors and publishers and book reading people. Thank you for creating books I will never read and books I love. Thank you to the quiet introverts; and thank you to the louder extroverts. You make the parties more fun and allow us quiet ones to sneak out early without others noticing. Thank you to the crabby, for you let me know that I am pleasant. Thank you to the people who hold tight to their money for you help me feel generous. Thank you to the generous for they help point the way for me to do more.
Thank you for the dancers who dance anywhere and the people who want to learn how to do that. Thank you to the people who eat crickets and the people who do not eat meat. Thank you to the people who are not average and stretch our imaginations. Thank you to the bigger and the smaller, the taller and the shorter, the simple and the complicated. Thank you for black tie and business casual.
I am counting on you... I cannot make our world this cool by myself. I am so glad for everyone that makes it different. We never came here wanting to be the same, believe the same, have the same dreams.
I want to look for who you might be, stranger. If you are driving slowly in front of me I just want to wonder why. I want to look for your specialness and find it. I do not want to miss you being your best. I hope to be moved to tears witnessing your finest qualities. I want to feel your heartfelt kindness and emulate it. I want to be struck by your wisdom. May I toast, with all my heart, your achievements. And the achievments of your children. If you decide to have them. Either is okay.
May I keep my eyes open, and admire who you are.
Melissa Regan has approached grieving families about Organ Donation for over 12 years. She is a wife, mother, lifelong learner, and lover of the wonder you can find in a single moment. Recently she changed her life by studying Positive Psychology and Let Your Yoga Dance®. Join her in taking a day to be thoughtful... the rest of your life is here.